The Thick Grey Line

Thursday 17 May 2007 @ 9:46 pm

I remember as I was younger in my career, everything was black and white. My opinions were strong and quickly formed. My views sharp and my perspective decisive. As I have grown older and been exposed to more cultures and experienced the dilemmas and challenges of the world, the once thin line separating black and white has expanded to a much larger thick grey line.

Yesterday I spent some time with a young man for whom I have tremendous respect. This is a young man who is in the early stages of his career, has been bitten really hard by the entrepreneurial bug, and is creating a successful web design company. In so many ways he reminds be of myself 20 years ago. He is intensely passionate, has very strong opinion, and is insanely talented. I have every confidence he will succeed.

The lengthy discussion that I had with him yesterday, related to a moral stand that he was taking relating to what type of web sites he was comfortable designing and his willingness to decline business that did not meet his moral standards. I can not help but respect anyone who is willing to take a stand and draw personal boundaries. In this apathetic world many people have become desensitized and are not willing to step forward and stand up for what they believe to be right.

As we discussed, it became very evident that we have many of the same long term goals and value systems, however on a few points we have dramatically different views.

It caused me to reflect on those simple days and in some ways longingly wish for the ON or OFF perspective that I did when I was just out of college. That being said, I have found that much of the richness of life comes from understanding and learning the perspectives in the thicker grey line. It may be messier, but it is also more rewarding to take the effort to look at the “beast” from a different angle.

We all have different upbringings, perspectives and value systems. In life, there is no simple black and white with a thin line. It is by making the attempt to understand each others perspectives, what motivates each other, and why we view things differently that unlocks the power of great advances. The lamest and most ineffective teams I have managed have been those that were homogeneous where everyone saw things the exact same way and everyone got along. The most powerful teams I have been involved with were compiled of members with extremely diverse backgrounds and differing perspectives YET all focusing on a common goal.

Looking for solutions in The Thick Grey Line requires more focus and effort, but when you find the solutions they not only last longer, but also mean more.

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A Contribution That Mattered

Saturday 14 October 2006 @ 4:38 pm

All humans are born with an innate drive to fulfill four basic needs. These needs are:

1. To Live
2. To Love
3. To Learn
4. To Matter

Once you reach a certain level of stability and maturation, the fourth item listed … To Matter, can become a primary source of focus and pre-occupation in your life. In my life as I now have exited the 30’s and have moved into the 40’s, I find myself asking the questions, “what am I doing that matters?” “What legacy will I leave?” and “what difference will I make in this crazy world?” The great men that I have respected have turned much of their energy to doing something of consequence or to mattering.

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the funeral of one of my hero’s and mentors in life, Ray Noorda. Ray was the man who turned Novell from a failing startup company with 17 employees to a computer giant which employed more than 12,000 people and made Utah Valley a hub of technology. Most of the technology companies in Utah Valley today still have someone or something that was in some way touched by Ray Noorda. I had the opportunity to work for a small startup company that Ray founded while I was in college and then spent 8 years working in many places at Novell during it’s “Glory Days” while Ray was driving the ship. I derive much of my leadership style and philosophy from simply watching Ray.

There is not a month that goes by that I don’t use Ray’s quote:

“Resist change and die!
Adapt to change and survive.
Create change and thrive!”

There is not a week that goes by that I don’t use Ray’s philosophy of considering the actions I take as a leader and how they will generate stories and drive the culture of the organization that I am involved in.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t require the very best from myself and from my team

Ray Noorda was at the very heart of these basic life fundamentals that I now try to live by.

Ray was not only a visionary, but a life philosopher, a mentor, a leader, and an individual who had a life purpose …. that of making a real contribution that mattered. He simply had the best strategic mind of any man I have had the opportunity to associate with. Ray subscribed to the philosophy of “Teach a man to fish and he will eat a life time,” rather than, “give him a fish and let him eat for a day”

Ray is known in the technology industry as the “father of network computing”. This is a fair and accurate assessment, but he was much more than this. He enabled the economy of Utah Valley, generated countless high paying technology jobs, spawned thousands of small businesses, and of most consequence to me, Ray set a leadership template that many men have tried to follow. I count myself as one who has benefited greatly from this template.

The entire week after learning of Ray’s passing, I found myself a bit melancholy. In some way I felt I needed to express gratitude to Ray. I could not really think of any appropriate action to take other than simply go to Ray’s funeral and silently let Ray know how much impact he had in my life and say thank you.

Ray probably did not even know that I considered him to be one of my greatest mentors and heroes. I was never on the inside circle of his sr. management team, nor was I closely associated with him in intimate social settings. (unless you consider my 3 year old son spilling his entire cup of punch on his shoes at the company picnic.) But I watched … I learned … I analyzed …, then I watched some more …. analyzed some more and you know what, his simple non assuming, conservative, lead by example, don’t tolerate mediocrity, and expect the best, and work hard philosophy rang true to me. As a young hungry MBA graduate eager to make my mark on life, I self assumed Ray as my mentor without him know of it.

I realized that Ray established the culture not by lecturing, not by mandating, but by creating stories. He made a point to come by our offices on Saturdays and after hours and sit on our desks. We all knew how to behave, what we stood for, and what was expected of us, not by him telling us what to do, but by the stories. There were many powerful, wonderful stories that circulated like wild fire through the companies that Ray was involved in.

I will never forget one particular meeting that I was involved in between Ray and one of my other major life mentors. Dr. Peter Horne. (Dr. Horne is another amazing man who I have undying respect and gratitude for and which no doubt will be the focus of many of my future Management Metaphor blogs.) Dr. Horne was in Provo from England to meet with Ray. True to form, Ray began acting kind of like a bumbling old farmer talking about how he loved to ski. Dr. Horne in his proper British accent said “so Ray… you are a skier are you”. Ray said, “oh yes, I love to ski, just love to ski, but only on Tuesdays.” Long awkward pause Dr. Horne looking puzzled took the bait and asked “Now why do you ski on Tuesdays Ray?’ A simple yet deliberate impactful response “It is Sr. Citizen day and I ski for 1/2 price”

Needless to say, the tone of the meeting was set, the fiscal conservative nature of Novell was established, and Ray (Novell) and Dr. Horne (Mitsubishi/Apricot) went on to have a strong productive relationship for years to come.

This is a fun story to tell because Ray and Dr. Horne both had tremendous impact on my approach to business and life philosophy.

At Ray’s funeral yesterday, several outstanding eulogies were given (one by Drew Major, and the other by Terry Peterson) that summed up the key things that Ray stood for. With out being laborious, I would like to regurgitate these points:

1. Believe and Trust In People
2. We all have a stewardship in life. Be faithful in your stewardship.
3. Customers 1st – Employees 2nd – Share holders 3rd (I can’t count the number of times I heard that)
4. Un Assuming (we all know that Ray lived in a home like ours and drove a car like we did)
5. Listen – Ray was a great listener and used words very deliberately and carefully
6. Integrity – Loyal
7 Be true to your own core beliefs. You can be successful with out compromise

    Terry Peterson

1. Respect the individual – Titles did not matter to him
2. Marriage – He and Tye were always supportive and building even in hard times
3. Financial Responsibility
4. Listen – especially with your heart
5. Word of Wisdom – focus on your health
6. Forgiveness
7. Dignity – always hung in there even with physical problems
8. Give back

I thought that these were a really good summary of what he stood for.

Ray, thank you for your contribution and making this world a much better place. I will forever be grateful for your example and in a small way will attempt to carry the torch forward.

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Praying Over A Business

Sunday 17 September 2006 @ 7:45 pm

One of the biggest motivations for me to become an entrepreneur and own a company was simply to allow me the ability to control the methods in which I conducted business. One of these methods includes the power of prayer.

A number of years ago, I reached a point in my career where a financial victory was simply hollow if it was not administered in a moral, building way.

I remember working as the general manager for one of the divisions of one of the largest internet companies in the world and found myself feeling completely slimy and disgusted as I learned the methods in which we stretched payments to our small businesses partners. Realizing that in many cases we were literally jeopardizing the very existence of these partners.

I guess the conclusion that I have come to is simply. I would rather not win, than to win and do so by stomping on everyone else to get there. In my heart of hearts I believe in the philosophy of Steven Covey of Win-Win or No Deal.

This week I was able to experience a moment of true satisfaction in relationship to prayer in relationship to business.

The past three months have been an exceptionally challenging time for me from both a personal and a business standpoint. I have been in the middle of a business situation that has invoked many negative emotions. Simultaneously we have been putting every ounce of energy we could muster to build a new social networking application transitioning out of our present business model. With my team, I have attempted to remain positive, building, optimistic, creative, and not turn to bitterness or self doubt. I have tried everything that I could think of to both resolve this situation as well as to propel the businesses forward, but all of my attempts fell flat.

This past week my partner Curtis Blair and myself began the week at 6:40 am by offering sincere prayer. This is not an uncommon event for us, but for some reason, this week the prayer was offered with a resigned level of acceptance and willingness to accept whatever path God had in store for us, despite the consequences. We prayed for our team and their success both in and out of the office, we prayed that our minds would be nimble. We prayed for something greater than our own abilities to impact the direction of our efforts. We also committed to work with every ounce of zeal and energy we could muster this week. We specifically asked for the correct paths to be magnified and the futile paths to naturally fade into the background.

What a week it has been! Friday night we were both red eyed and burnt to a frazzle. We did several 2 am in the morning work sessions, and in one form or another gave every spare ounce of emotional, physical, and mental energy we could muster on each day of this week. Friday night as we converged over my desk at the close of the business week, we were simply amazed at what had occurred.

Connecting pieces of the puzzle jumped out of no where this week. Several of the major paths we were pursuing simply faded into the background this week. A key new team member was added to our band of warriors that held a critical skill and background that we simply had never considered. In summary, there is simply no way that we could have figured this out on our own accord. Maybe some individuals can claim that they are naturally talented enough and gifted enough to arrange such a series of events, but we simply realized that this was beyond either of our capacities. I personally believe that the prayers we offered at the beginning of the week were heard and answered.

You will often hear the great leaders and individuals who accomplish amazing things talk about how the greatest breakthroughs and events happen through serendipity. I totally agree with this, but would also add, that is simply does not hurt to pray.

Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.
And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and vaileth you
nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.
Alma 34: 17-28

As Curtis and I reached the end of the week, we looked at each other and realized that prayer was also appropriate at the close of the week. So, we prayed! We expressed thanks for the growth we had experienced, the insights gained, the opportunity to grow and learn, the association of this outstanding little rag tag team of individuals with whom we considered friends, and for the love and support of our wives. It felt right.

I am not naive enough to think all problems this week or last are immediately solved with prayer. I acknowledge that next week we have tiger to fight and lions. You are lucky at best if you manage to hold a new boot-strap business together for a month let alone a year. However, I can say this with confidence. I sure would not want to even try with out the belief that their is a God above who will hear my pleads and answer my prayers in fun and unexpected serendipitous ways.

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Rich Christiansen